Shelf Awareness with Julia Engel logo

’Tis the season! It’s that time of year when we start ruminating on the past 12 months. When I look back on the year there are so many things that have changed and so many things to be thankful for, both personally and professionally.

My husband and I bought our first home. We began to return to somewhat “normal” library services with the reopening of our buildings. I have happily seen many old faces and some new ones. As always this was another year rich in the gifts of the written word.  

I am very grateful for another great reading year. Myriad great books were published and I discovered many older books that I also now cherish. My reading goals helped keep me on track and motivated me to read more than before and to widen the variety of my reading material. On top of that, I was given the enormous gift of the opportunity to share my thoughts with you lovely readers through writing this column.    

As the days get shorter and darker, I can’t wait to cozy up with more good books this holiday season. This is my favorite time of year to hunker down and immerse myself in a great story. In Icelandic tradition, they celebrate something called the Jolabokaflod, aka the Christmas book flood. Every year they buy books to give their family and friends as gifts, and then on Dec. 24, crack those books open and get reading. The idea of spending a day sharing books, and then even better, reading them sounds like a delightful break and a way to round out the year.  

Even if we aren’t in Iceland, I think books make the perfect gifts for everyone on your list. For all of my bibliophiles out there, you most likely need no convincing that books make the best gifts. But here are a few reasons why you should consider buying books for your loved ones.  

Of course as a librarian, I am the one in my family that staunchly insists on giving everyone books, and not just because of my carefully cultivated persona of being “the book lady,” a not so subtle way of encouraging them to read more, or because I have no idea what else to give some of them. There are so many reasons why books make the perfect gift for everyone. As an added bonus it is extremely satisfying when a loved one delves into a book I have bought for them, especially if they say they don’t like to read.   

Books are the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. They are a nonperishable gift that also self-replenishes, when you finish the book you can read it again and discover things in it you didn’t catch when you read it the first time. You can revisit the beloved characters and worlds whenever you want to. Alternatively, you can choose to pass it along to someone else and that joy can begin again. I am never upset if someone regifts a book I have given, it helps to spread the joy of knowledge more widely.   

They double as great decorations, too. There are so many delightful cookbooks, gardening books and picture books that will fill your loved ones homes with beauty. In addition, I am a firm believer that you are never too old for picture books.  

Books make great gifts for kids because they can grow into them, or even get different things from them during other stages of life. I realized early on that some gifts my young nephews requested ended up falling flat. Flashy toys and action figures keep their attention for a short time, but the hunks of plastic and batteries would quickly be thrown to the side in service of chasing the next new favorite superhero or TV show tie-in. Like many young children, the box was more exciting than the toy. I tried giving cute onesies when they were infants but those were quickly destroyed or outgrown.  

Sweet treats are consumed and forgotten, and dietary restrictions or preferences are sometimes difficult to accommodate. With books you get so much more. Books don’t need batteries and don’t irritate allergies. They don’t require assembly or produce a superfluous amount of packaging that needs to be cleaned up and recycled. They are pretty easy to wrap and cheap to mail. You can find a book that is just right for everyone on your list, there are topics and formats and styles for every individual taste and preference. You don’t have to worry about them fitting right. Technology like tablets, smartphones, watches, toys, etc., are exciting and fun but often become obsolete quickly nowadays.  

You can check out books from the library to preview them before giving them. If you want to try out a nonbook gift such as a bubble maker, projector, disc golf set or board game, you can check out our Library of Things. Or you can just check one out to help entertain you and your family over the holidays. If you’re looking for a great movie to watch you can check out our expansive selection of DVDs or video streaming service Kanopy.   

Year-end literary wrap-ups often include a “best books of the year” list. I have included a list at the end of this column of some of my favorite books published in 2021 and recommended to me by library staff, or other bookish friends and family. I don’t know if these are the “best” books of the year, but they were stories that brought us comfort, joy, or inspiration. I would love to hear some of your favorites as well!  

As always if you have any questions about library services, please don’t hesitate to call us at the Philomath library branch, or contact the systemwide information service by phone 541-766-67-93, text 541-326-0100, or email

Happy Reading!  

(Julia Engel is a reference librarian at Philomath Community Library. She can be reached via email at or by phone at 541-929-3016.)

Favorite books of 2021


All In: An Autobiography by Billie Jean King

Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

The Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession, and Death on Mount Everest by Mark Synnott

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert


Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Dial A for Aunties Jesse Q. Sutanto

Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson

Finlay Donovan is Killing it by Elle Cosimano

Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

In the Quick by Kate Hope Day

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Matrix by Lauren Groff

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange